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How Rocket Scientists and Space Age Sailors Are One and the Same

The August issue of Latitude 38 hit the docks on Friday, just in time for a good weekend of reading — while on the water, of course. One of the stories that intrigues us in this issue is Rocket Scientists — Space Age Sailors. Now, as far as we’re concerned, sailing ‘isn’t rocket science’ (to use the widely applicable phrase), unless of course you’re moving into foiling cats or any of the highly technical racing sailboats that dominate events like SailGP and the America’s Cup. But for most of us, sailing is just meant to be simple fun. So how are Rocket Scientists and Space Age Sailors one and the same? Lisa Hotchkiss did some research and shares the stories of three sailors who blend rocket science and sailing, and have fun doing so.

Not to question the inimitable James T. Kirk, but is space really the final frontier? For some satellite engineers with ties to Bay Area sailing and one another, space and sailing seem to go hand in hand.

Dan Newland became a self-proclaimed space nerd early on, as his Houston high school was across the street from NASA, and many of his sailing buddies had NASA associations. His daily school bus route passed by Neil Armstrong’s home, and his best friend’s father was Donn Eisele Sr., who flew on Apollo 7.

In addition to keeping “piles of everything NASA would send out,” young Dan was also obsessed with building. Fortunately, his parents supported their son’s “hobby” by providing whatever materials he needed for his various projects. “I built my first model airplane before I could read, and took my first flying lesson and landed a plane when I was 9.”

Space Age Sailors
Every space age sailor needs a bird on their shoulder.
© 2021 Dan Newland

Dan built his first boat at the age of 12 and started sailing at 13 at the Houston Yacht Club, first racing on Pearson Ensigns and later crewing on destination races to Corpus Christi, Biloxi, MS, and beyond. He continued building boats after a couple of years of college in Texas, but moved to Folsom, CA, where he could sail (racing 5O5s) and pursue his new passion of downhill skiing. He bought a sewing machine and some sailcloth and taught himself sailmaking as a hobby, but found that he started winning with his own sails. Jim DeWitt of DeWitt Sails (now Quantum) hired him and prompted the fortuitous move to the Bay Area, where his racing circles broadened to include local sailing legends Stan and Sally Honey and Dennis Surtees.

With his “Space Geek” status, Dan built this kayak to include inlays of planets, moons and comets.
© 2021 Dan Newland

Go to Latitude 38 to continue reading about Dan and his fellow space age sailors, Bud Fraze and Patrick Lewis.


1 Comment

  1. Robert Temple 1 year ago

    This article reminds me of visits to the Einstein Memorial in Washington DC where I learned he was an avid sailor. I did a little research today and learned something new.

    I may be right when I take novice sailors out on my boat and often say “its not rocket science”.

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Enjoying the Channel Island Vibe
We were thinking about the summer weather and remembered the season's opening day, June 20, and the annual Summer Sailstice celebration that took place the same weekend.